Twit nits: 12 top Twitter annoyances

What's missing, what's exasperating, what you can do about it -- and what Twitter should do about it

All or nothing privacy

Without support for groups, it is difficult to offer private message streams to certain users. Today, privacy is an all-or-nothing proposition on Twitter.

Sure, you can use Twitter's direct message (DM) feature to send a private message to any individual -- if that person follows you. And @replies are semi-private in that those messages can be seen only by Twitter users who follow both the sender and the recipient. You can also "protect" all updates to your Twitter stream, making them private so that only followers you approve can see them. But Twitter won't allow you to have a mix of both public tweets and private ones that, for example, only your friends or co-workers can see.

"I want to be able to notify a specific team privately but do so right in the main stream of their normal Twitter usage," Fitton says. For that she needs a work-around like the one offered by GroupTweet and similar tools.

Twit nit tweet: Public or private? You can't have it both ways. It's all or nothing when creating tweets.

But the solution is a bit of a kludge. For example, GroupTweet's scheme requires that you set up a separate Twitter account for your group name, protect it and then explicitly allow each member of the group to view tweets from that account. When one group member sends a DM to the group account, GroupTweet republishes it as a tweet that all group members can follow. It works, but native Twitter support for private groups would be much cleaner.

No consolidated view of multiple user accounts

Not only can't you group tweets, Twitter won't let you group multiple accounts you've created into a single aggregated view. If you have more than one Twitter account, there's no way to get a consolidated view of the activity across those accounts. Instead, you must log into them one at a time.

Twit nit tweet: Need more than one Twitter account? If so, you'll need to log into each one separately to view activity on Twitter.com.

You also can't associate more than one Twitter account with a single e-mail address. While the Twitter ecosystem of third-party tools and services doesn't solve this directly, there are tools that can pull together all of your accounts into a single view, including TweetGrid, FriendFeed and Tweetie, which runs on the iPhone and Mac OS X.

A rising tide of spam

As Twitter traffic has increased, so has all of the lovely spam that users must deal with. Spammers have infected tweets, direct messages, @reply messages and follower lists. To get messages in front of as many users as possible, tweet spam often includes the trending topic keywords du jour that Twitter has posted on its Twitter.com and Twitter Search Web sites, and it may include other popular search terms and Twitter #hashtags in order to push the spam message into as many Twitter streams and search results as possible.

Twit nit tweet: Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam!

Twitter spam may be structured to include a pitch right in the tweet, or it may do a bait and switch, where an embedded hot link goes to a Web site with content that's completely unrelated to the original message. Twitter spam messages that include hot links may lead the recipient to a Web site containing a product pitch -- or malware. Retweets may replace the original text and are then associated with a trusted name. That became a continuing problem for the online publication Search Engine Land, says Editor in Chief Danny Sullivan.

Short URLs embedded in a tweet can serve to obfuscate obvious links to spam, porn or malware sites. Some third-party applications let users view the full URL before they click on the hot link: TweetDeck, for example, can be configured to open a preview window that displays the expanded URL when you click on the link, while Mixero shows you the full link when you hover your mouse cursor over the short URL. These previews can help you avoid URLs that are obviously inappropriate. They won't, however, help if the full URL doesn't offer any clues that you're about to be transported to an undesirable site.

Rebel Monkey's Wallace finds the growing spam problem frustrating. "Twitter really needs to move quickly to implement better filtering and user-initiated blocking," she says.

Shea Bennett, a Twitter enthusiast and author of a blog called Twittercism, says the current blocking mechanism is useless. "People you've blocked can still read your timeline, retweet you, @reply you, etc.," he says.

Twitter does regular sweeps that purge thousands of spam accounts, but new ones are opened up just as quickly -- and Twitter offers only limited tools to help users clean it up. Users can block followers who are suspected spammers and report spammers by sending a direct message with the account name to Twitter's Spam Watch account. However, both processes are cumbersome if the volume of spam is significant.

"I don't like spammers, so I have to spend some time blocking them, even though it's not my job," says Rheingold. But he does it anyway, he says, because it helps Twitter identify and shut down offending accounts.

One third-party product, Clean Tweets, provides additional tools to help Twitter users combat spam. The product, a free Firefox toolbar add-on from Web analytics vendor BLVD Status, deletes tweets from your account page when the account that created them is less than 24 hours old or when it includes three or more trending topic keywords (you can adjust that number up or down). But keeping up isn't easy: To get around the 24-hour rule, some spammers are "aging" new accounts before attempting to follow other users.

Clean Tweets also allows the user to flag spam messages. It displays an "X" next to each tweet. When the user clicks on the "X," the post is removed and future posts from that account are not displayed. Chris Bennett, co-founder and president of BLVD Status, says the company also plans to add a feature that detects tweets that contain hot links to malware sites.

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